Sunday, March 30, 2014


If Toyota doesn't have the largest and most diverse selection of trucks, SUVs and crossovers, we're not sure who does. There are utilitarian mommy-mobiles, rugged and retro off-roaders and enormous cross-country haulers. Then there's the 2013 Toyota Venza, which seems to exist for people who can't make up their minds. Part wagon and part crossover SUV, this five-passenger family car can be considered alongside any number of different vehicles.

Once you're perched in its driver seat, the Venza feels a little wagon-esque. Though it has a raised ride height, you don't get quite a commanding view of the road. It's more like the 2013 Subaru Outback in this way. However, it does feel more carlike, both in terms of visual perception and driving experience.

A pair of growing teens in the reclining rear seat will find plenty of sprawl space, while once joined by a friend, the three of them will discover the rear seat is just wide enough for their shoulders as well. Plus, a composed ride and quiet cabin give the Venza a grown-up feel that compact crossover SUVs such as the Chevrolet Equinox do not offer. In terms of space and cabin ambience, the Venza is more like a 2013 Ford Edge or Nissan Murano. Similar cargo capacities further the comparison.

Of course, being "like" those aforementioned vehicles doesn't make the 2013 Toyota Venza equal to them in every way. The Outback is more rugged, the Edge gives you a more commanding view of the road and the Equinox is cheaper and better for hauling stuff. Is the Venza an intriguing alternative, however? Absolutely.

The LE comes standard with 19-inch wheels, automatic headlights, foglamps, a windshield wiper de-icer, privacy glass, a blind-spot mirror, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, reclining rear seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a cargo cover, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with a touchscreen interface, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The V6-powered Venza gets 20-inch wheels.

The LE Convenience package adds a power liftgate and a rearview camera. The LE Preferred package adds these items plus a panoramic sunroof and Toyota's Entune suite of smartphone-based app services.

The XLE trim includes the Convenience package items, plus keyless ignition/entry, heated front seats, driver seat memory functions, a four-way power passenger seat, leather upholstery, Entune, satellite radio and HD radio with iTunes tagging. The XLE Premium package adds the panoramic sunroof, a larger touchscreen interface, a navigation system, real-time traffic (plus other services) and a 13-speaker JBL sound system.

The 2.7-liter inline-4 produces 181 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. In Edmunds performance testing, a four-cylinder, front-drive Venza went from a standstill to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds -- this is an average time for four-cylinder compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. The all-wheel-drive version gets 22 mpg combined. These estimates are not all that great compared to those same compact crossovers, but the Venza does at least offer the option of four-cylinder power.

The 3.5-liter V6 produces 268 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds performance testing, an all-wheel-drive Venza V6 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. This is considerably quicker than both compact and midsize SUVs. At the same time, fuel economy is almost identical to that of the four-cylinder, at an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 18/25/21 with all-wheel drive.

The 2013 Venza doesn't quite exhibit the top-notch interior quality of past Toyota models or its midsize SUV competitors, but the overall design is rather fetching and practical, with a sleek center console that features a high-mounted shift lever for the transmission which frees up space between the seats. This allows for a large console bin, generously sized cupholders and smaller bins perfect for smartphones and other personal effects.

While the Venza's audio controls are more complicated than those found in past Toyotas, the new-for-2013 touchscreen interface is one of the best available. We appreciate its ability to mix and match FM/AM/XM radio presets, and the accompanying steering-wheel-mounted controls are well conceived. For those with more high-tech tastes, the Venza also can be equipped with Toyota's new Entune system. By connecting the car to a smartphone via Bluetooth, it allows you to control Pandora radio, buy movie tickets or reserve a restaurant table through the car's touchscreen.

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